Sunday, November 14, 2010


Looking East on the Kittatinny Ridge. To the left, Red Hill, to the right, the AT as it climbs the Eastern Kittatinny Ridge on the other side of the Lehigh River Gap
[Note: Yes, it's been forever since I've written anything here. I apologize for the hiatus. A big piece of news (if anyone out there who reads this doesn't know this already): I am engaged! Mike proposed on the Grand Canal at Versailles--trop romantique et tellement bon. This fall has been very busy and I've been focusing on work (my last year of grad school! youpie!) and wedding. Recently, I had an incredible weekend with Restoration Ecology class. We went to restoration sites in Maryland and Pennsylvania. We met sea turtles and a former coalminer and "Tea Party activist" who runs the largest compost business in PA. It was a whirlwind. Below is an excerpt--slightly edited for internet--from a report I wrote about one particular site that deeply impressed me. Everyone, look up the Lehigh Gap Nature Center and become a member. They are doing such impressive work there and need the support. Excuse the proselytizing.]
The Kittatinny Ridge was an impressive sight as we drove through Slatington towards the Lehigh Gap, and as we pulled into the parking lot at the Lehigh Gap Nature Center everyone’s eyes were fixed on that massive rise of rock laid bare. By the end of the visit, awestruck feeling inspired by the stark landscape shifted to awe at what a small number of determined people have been able to accomplish to restore a devastated environment. Dan Kunkle, Director of the Lehigh Gap Nature Center, narrated the story of zinc smelting in Palmerton. Zinc companies were drawn to the area because of the nearby coal mines—coal was more expensive to ship than zinc, so the zinc company shipped zinc from New Jersey to where the coal was coming right out of the ground. Between 1898 and 1980, two zinc smelting plants owned by the New Jersey Zinc Company poured zinc, cadmium, lead, and sulfur-containing smoke from their stacks, a deadly smog that eventually killed all the vegetation on the slopes of the surrounding hills. With the trees and other plants dead, topsoil washed off the slopes, leaving a rocky substrate contaminated to 8 inches with heavy metals. In 1983, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) declared the area a Superfund site.

Ruin of the New Jersey Zinc Company West Plant
The Lehigh Gap Nature Center presides over a thriving and growing wildlife refuge right around the corner from a blasted heath. The Lehigh river, once owned by the Lehigh Coal and Navigation company, has recovered from its once foul condition and now is home to otters and wood ducks. The ridge has pitch pine and hairgrass savanna at its high elevations, which Indians and settlers once burned to encourage good low-pH soil and sun for blueberries. There are also two endangered species on the ridge: Fringed Bleeding-heart (Dicentra eximia) and Glade Sandwort (Minuartia patula). Dan is a TogetherGreen fellow and winner of a “Best Citizen” award from the county (he didn’t tell us this last part, I ran across an article online). He left his job teaching high school biology and environmental science to run the Lehigh Gap Nature Center, and credits his wife for allowing him to pursue this dream. He's also one of the most pleasantly modest people you could meet. He’s made restoring the Kittatinny Ridge his life’s work. Dan explained the EPA goals: revegetate with native species, stop the erosion problems, and fix metals in the substrate—using plants that do not bio-accumulate metals—so they are immobilized and unable to migrate into water sources. Included in the Superfund designation are Blue Mountain, a 2 ½ mile long mountain of zinc waste, the town of Palmerton, and the water of Palmerton. CBS Television is (through a long history of companies buying each other) the responsible party. The New Jersey Zinc Company started a restoration on the east side of Kittatinny that is now 20 years in progress, and still has not fulfilled the EPA’s goals. Dan attributes this failure to a lack of vegetation management and intrinsic problems with the restoration method—based on a soil/public waste compost mixture called "EcoLoam." The east side of Kittatinny restored by NJZC has vegetation, but it is chock full of invasive species and bio-accumulating tree species. 

Canada Wild Rye
Little Bluestem
In light of the failure of NJZC's restoration, Dan said, he posed the questions: How would nature repair the mountain, and how can we find out and jump start the process? To answer these questions, the restoration effort turned towards ecological models. Dan knew that sometime during the post-glacial period, grassland would have been part of the first succession of  plants. That grassland literally laid the foundations for soil which eventually supported forest on the Kittatinny Ridge. He also knew that there are areas where the soil is naturally high in heavy metals, such as serpentine barrens. Several different kinds of warm season grasses grow on serpentine barrens. Warm season grasses do not accumulate heavy metals. Would warm season grasses work on Kittatinny Ridge? Fifty-six one-acre test plots were planted in 2003, and the success of the test plots led to planting seeds with a crop duster in 2004. Along with the seed-planting program, compost was spread up to the highest slopes that could be reached with a tractor. Lime was added to bring the pH up from 4.5 to 6. The compost was essential for establishing decomposers on the barren contaminated substrate, on which all fungi had died. The crop duster worked, and the program was continued on higher slopes. Among the grasses planted were switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans), canada wild rye (Elymus canadensis), and lovegrass (Eragrostis). Along with the grasses, other plants started to grow, among them invasive species such as Buddleia and Ailanthus. Birch and poplar also started to grow, presenting a management challenge. The warm-season grasses do not bio-accumulate, but these trees and the invasive species do, and will end up mobilizing the heavy metals in the contaminated substrate when they shed leaves and eventually die. Dan has organized a monitoring and management program to remove the invasive species with herbicide. He explained that because the heavy metals will always be there in the sub-soil, adaptive management is crucial. There is a challenge not only with plants bringing heavy metals up into their tissues, but also the soil could shift around over time and re-expose the contaminated substrate, leaving it exposed and able to be washed away with rainwater. Over time, the metals may become less biologically available, but that will take a century or more. Some local people and organizations say they prefer to “let nature restore itself,” but the movement of heavy metals makes that approach foolhardy. Dan told us of hiking with a president of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy on Kittatinny Ridge, and indicating to her that with the contaminated substrate on ATC lands exposed to the elements, heavy metals were washing downstream with every rain storm. The warm-season grasses are working to gradually prevent the heavy metals from mobilizing, but it is a fragile balance.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

la versaillaise

la Versaillaise
Today was the fin des fraises, si triste. Most of them had stopped producing, so we ripped them out to make way for leeks. I felt as though I should say a few words in homage. I arrived here at the height of the strawberry season, which was sadly diminished by a cold and rainy spell. We saw them at their peak, we cleaned up the rotten berries with chagrin. They were tasty while they lasted! The only strawberries left are the rare, the incomparable, the Versaillaises. This variety is so delicate we cannot pick it to sell in la boutique here at the Potager du Roi, because it would no longer be good eating an hour after picking. The Versaillaise strawberry is small, half red or pink and half white. It is often slightly deformed. It is not a pretty strawberry. It doesn't have to be, its flavor is incredible--as if someone had taken a whole kilo of strawberries and crammed them into one tiny strawberry, with an added flavor that is almost alcoholic, like a sweet liquor. They are more sucrée, too, than other strawberries. Amazing.

I think the intense heat we've had for the last week has further concentrated the sweetness of the Versaillaises. Other fruits, like peaches, currants, and raspberries, are quickly ripening. Yesterday, having received at last official permission to harvest from the garden whatever I would like for my meals, I went grocery shopping. Evening songbirds were singing from the tops of espalier, swallows were tittering and swooping everywhere, and the sun was setting over the Pièce d'Eau Suisses as I walked through the Grand Carré of the Potager. I felt deliciously overwhelmed. Eventually I took a few early turnips, courgette, spinach, parsley, and white peaches. Oh! picking peaches off the tree! They are so fuzzy and tender... Mmmmm. I was tempted by the artichokes but would like them to be a little bigger. I am spoiled by garden riches! Not to mention the French supermarkets in general... even the little 8 à huit convenience store around the corner has treasures of cheese, sorbet, and jams. They have a Poilâine bread stand in the 8 à huit, for goodness sake! I found shrimp--big, juicy whole cooked shrimp--at Monoprix today, 10 for about $3! I only needed 5 of them to make a meal. I ate them with fresh potatoes that I dug up myself, with a sauce of fromage blanc and shallots.
Did I mention the incredible $4 bottles of wine?
To paraphrase Nathan Detroit: "So hate me, hate me, go ahead hate me, I love you." Wish you all could come visit!
post edited by Liz on 11/14/2010

Saturday, May 1, 2010

waiting for the clouds to break

Very humid and warm today, a day I am happy that my room is in the basement. Trying to stay in production mode here, but here are just a couple of photos of recent doings:
Orchids were brought outside to luxuriate in the jungle-like air.

I have a few new orchids. A friend in horticulture gave me a Lycaste, an orchid with wrinkly pseudobulbs and big leaves. It is a rescue case, I had to cut off a bunch of rotten roots, but it does have some healthy-looking new roots so I hold out hope.

She also gave me two bitty baby phaelaenopsis orchids. We're talking tiny wee here. The size of my fingernail. For the size of the leaves, they have very impressive roots!

This brings the grand orchid total to 6 (one of the baby phaels will go to Cindy but I am nursing it for now).

Pig and Buffy didn't think much of the heat.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

spring sprung for sure, bringing news with it...

The very tall cherry tree in the Bradbury's backyard is set off nicely by the Norway spruce behind it. Right now it is shedding a snow of petals all over.

Deadlines loom. There are Great Expectations and very little time. If there weren't beautiful things like this cherry tree around, I think I'd go nuts.

By the way, it seems likely that I will be in France this summer. I've been accepted to an internship at the Potager du Roi (King's Kitchen Garden) at Versailles. The National Landscape Architecture School of France (École Nationale Supérieure du Paysage) is located at Versailles and manages the Potager du Roi. The other intern (also a Cornell LA grad student) and I will be sharing a studio apartment in Versailles.

I am hoping to have some time this summer to work on personal landscape design projects, such as my parent's woodland property in New Hampshire. It all depends on the dates of the internship, which I am expecting to hear... well, yesterday... but am trying not to be the impatient American. I am reminded of when Mike and I spent some time in Tennessee and I had a small amount of culture shock at the slower pace of southern living ("Why is she taking so long to make your espresso?" "Relax... they have a slower pace of life down here, and we're not in a hurry.") It was true, not just a stereotype! I suspect there is a similar spirit, a certain anti-hectic attitude, in France. I think of Peter Mayle's repairmen (see A Year in Provence) and their flexible attitude towards scheduling... So I am trying not to think about the price of airline tickets going up, and trust that they will respond to my emails soon.

Just three more intense weeks, and then I'll be able to breathe a bit more easily. Meanwhile I am trying to soak up spring as much as possible from the window and while biking home late at night, hearing the sound of cheeping peepers and smelling wafts of crabapple blossom along the dark road.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

they say it's your birthday

Happy birthday to me. 28 will be a good year. Yes it will.
I keep meaning to turn this photo into a painting:

Saturday, March 13, 2010

is that you, spring?

This past week we've seen glorious weather here in Ithaca, and everyone got a bit giddy as a result. I walked down to Collegetown to pick up a sandwich (BLT with avocado and parsley-garlic aioli mmmmm) wearing no jacket at all! My ears did get a bit cold, but if the crocuses can show their fragile petals amid the snowmelt, my lobes can survive without a hat.
Philadelphia last weekend was every bit as enjoyable as anticipated, and did a lot to brighten my outlook. It was wonderful to see sister and cousin. Alice remarked with surprise that it was the first time us three had gotten together independently as adults, outside of family holidays. One of these days us cousins need to set off on some traveling adventures together.

The flower show was satisfying. The theme was "Passport to the World" which resulted a variety of plants from various climate zones (i.e. both temperate and tropical plants and everything in between). There were hand-sized cattleya orchids:

Amazing bromeliads:

And extravagant nightclubs featuring waterfalls and green walls:

I came home with two little tiny orchid babies, whom I am hoping will survive babyhood. I never thought I'd become an orchid nut, and now I catch myself whispering encouragingly to them. Haven't started playing Mozart for them yet, though, so you know I'm still this side of sanity.
Next year the Philadelphia Flower Show theme is "Springtime in Paris." I anticipate tableau involving artists, berets, baguettes, young lovers, and many Eiffel Towers. Maybe even a bateau-mouche made entirely of flowers. Who wants to go with me?
Back to real work now! Site construction awaits, always...

Thursday, March 4, 2010

yellow flag

Yellow is such a springtime color. I took this photo of yellow flag iris, Iris pseudacorus, somewhere in the vicinity of Hampstead Heath, London, in spring 2003. C'mon spring, you can do it! I am anticipating with great excitement a visit to the Philadelphia Flower Show this weekend. I have fond memories of the Boston Flower Show, which my family went to frequently when I was a little girl. The smells, the colors, the strange shapes, the tableaux, were all enchanting to wee Elizabeth. I think there's something wonderful about a collective swoon over these fragile growing beauties at a dark time of year. The fact that the flowers are blooming and the leaves are flourishing only through careful forcing and precise cultivation methods somehow does nothing to diminish the magic, at least for me.
I'm also excited to see my cousin perform in 'The Countess,' in the title role at Old Academy Players in Philadelphia. And my sister is coming down as well to join the flower and theater fun! Hooray! Expect more flower images soon...

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

cabin fever

Reading this article on foraging made me long to be able to wander in the woods, collecting various tasty wild edibles. Oh, how I miss being able to go outside without sinking ankle-to-knee deep in slush. Piles and piles of wet snow and mud outdoors, piles and piles of "to-do" lists piling up in my brain and on my desk... this is not a fun time of year.

I have a lot of photos in a rotating slideshow on my desktop, and the photos of flowers that I've been taking over the years have really been cheering me up. Since I have a whole lot to do and still haven't been able to get those paintings from my Key West vacation up on the blog, for now I will post a few flowers per week until spring comes (this may be a while, Ithaca being Ithaca).

Here is one of my favorites. This is Anemone occidentalis or Western Pasqueflower. It was growing in the Cascades, near Mt. Rainier. Click on the photo to enlarge it, and check out the beautiful downy hairs on its outer petals.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

mittens! & a knitting-book review

These mittens, knit for my sister, were sort-of finished in time for Christmas, but now they are really finished (i.e. blocked, with large snaps sewn on to secure the finger-flaps).

The pattern came from a lovely book called "Handknit Holidays: Knitting Year-Round for Christmas, Hanukkah, and Winter Solstice," by Melanie Falick. This book has many inspirational ideas, but I cannot exactly vouch for the patterns themselves, as I changed the pattern so much. I used the instructions for the thumb gusset, as I had never before knit a gusset (it was fun), and I used the basic stitch count, changed for my gauge, to start off with, but I changed the type of yarn, the gauge, the colorwork (which I invented), the thumb decrease, and the way the finger flap is shaped and finished (the original pattern calls for a [Skp, knit 2, k2tog] type decrease, but I like the simplicity and look of k3tog, with the raised "chain" of stitches along the seam that it creates, so I did that instead).
The yarn I used is baby alpaca, knit with size 5 and 4 double-points. If you would like more details you'll have to comment, as that's all I've noted for the moment.
Another note about the book: my aunt is also working on a pattern from the book, a double-knitted scarf which she was working on with a knitting class. Again, the design served as inspiration, but apparently the instructions were so confusing for this method that they used another reference to learn the mechanics of the method required to create the double-faced fabric. So all in all, a great book to get one inspired to make all sorts of knitted gifts, but maybe a book better treated as a jumping-off point than an exact reference. It's not too early to get started on gifts for next winter! I have enough wool left to make a hat to go with these mittens... hmm...

(Thanks to Harvey for being such a good, handsome kitten mitten model!)

Saturday, January 2, 2010

a new creative project for the new year!

I've been saying to myself and remarking to others how I am looking forward to doing some painting and sketching during my vacation. In an effort to transform declaring into doing, I had the idea to launch a new creative project: one sketch or painting a day during my vacation to South Florida. Though I will not be able to share these with you immediately, I'll scan and upload them when I return.
Meanwhile, I am cleaning my paintbox and getting my small painting and sketching kit together.
In light of the recent terrorist activity and expected tightened security, Mike and I are attempting to fit everything we need into our carry-on luggage. I like this challenge to pack succinctly, it makes me feel self-sufficient.
If you'd like a postcard, leave a comment or email with your address.